WFP Knows the Rules: Save the Party First, Endorse the Candidates Second


wfp-square-logo-jpgNew Orleans   The headlines were all topspin, which is the way most people follow politics.  The influential and growing political force in New York State, the Working Families Party, had made a deal, significantly brokered by the new Mayor of New York, and longtime WFP and New Party activist, Bill de Blasio, and would now endorse Governor Cuomo for re-election, simplifying his campaign and keeping him a dark horse on the outside track for a run at the White House if Hillary spits the bit.   None of this had been easy and none of this could have been certain for reasons both reported and too important to forget.

Zephyr Teachout, a much admired friend and valuable adviser for ACORN in my last several years there based on her cutting edge experience in building support with social media in the early, heady days of the Howard Dean campaign, is now a professor of law at Fordham and seemingly enchanted the crowd at the WFP convention in seeking to be a more progressive voice than Cuomo has proven as governor.  There was groaning and moaning from some quarters on Facebook that the WFP was becoming too much like the Democratic Party itself and less the brave new alternative for the future.  The reactions were superficial, but understandable.  Cuomo had dilly-dallied around whether or not he would support a more robust campaign against Republican mossbacks in Albany, trying to have his cake and eat it, too.  Unquestionably, Cuomo has also been no “profile in courage” in governing to the middle, especially in comparison to the stiff backbone that de Blasio has proven thus far in holding firmly to his progressive commitments.

But, all that is about the candidates, and, the first rule of organizing, certainly well-known to Danny Cantor, WFP’s national director, and Bill Lipton, the party’s New York director, is that the first priority is always what is best for the good of the organization, in this case the party, and the rest, issues, candidates, resources, whatever, falls much farther down the line.  In the current situation the party was fighting for its life with Cuomo and had been for some time.  Legislation that Cuomo was supporting in Albany went right to the heart of the legality of fusion, the ability to cross endorse a candidate from another party on a third party ballot line, in most cases endorsing Democrats, and proving the progressive support delivered by the WFP.  As strong as the WFP was becoming in New York, especially with the ascent of de Blasio as Mayor, that did not match Cuomo’s strength in the legislature.  This was high stakes, life or death, with the Governor seeming to be committed to destroying the WFP, since it was increasingly a threat and in his way, and the WFP being forced to begin to court other candidates, like Zephyr, in order to have a credible alternative in this dispute.  Organizers have made the mistake of not making the organization’s health and survival the primary concern, but the WFP knew better, and acted firmly on that knowledge.  Whether people get that on social media or not, that’s the way organizations are built and sustained, hell or high water.

More than being a threat, the continued and permanent viability of the Working Families Party is how well it succeeds on the ballot line.   A party first strategy depends on credible, not quixotic, candidates on its line in order to draw sufficient votes to maintain its line, and if possible, move up higher in relation to all of the other parties.

Zephyr has a great future as a candidate and that future could involve an endorsement from the WFP as well, but it’s hard to start an elected career as governor of anything, much less New York.  Meanwhile, thankfully, the WFP was strong enough to force the Governor to back away from his nuclear options and the Mayor had enough credibility and courage to broker the deal that needed to be made to allow the Working Families Party to continue to be able to wage the fights that it must lead, certainly in New York City, where it has proven its merit time and time again, but also statewide and nationally in the future.